A Snarling

The picture is of a jellyfish drawn by Ernst Haeckel in 1904, just three years before Sherlock Holmes encountered one in “The Lion’s Mane.”

Dogs, Jellyfish, and Sherlock Holmes

“I think Ian Murdoch is actually a kind and generous person,” said J at the latest meeting of the Stormy Petrels of British Columbia.

“He is not,” said J (another J).  “He threw McPherson’s dog through a plate-glass window.  It’s unforgivable.”

The Petrels, a usually sedate group of Sherlockians, were discussing one of the later Holmes stories at their monthly get-together.

“You can’t judge by appearances,” said J the First.

“But there’s an actual action here,” said A.  “He threw the dog through the window.”

“Maybe he’s bipolar,” said J the First.  “And anyone might have murderous thoughts about a yapping dog.”

“But they don’t act on them,” said N.

“Murdoch is awful,” said J the Second, with vehemence.

“You couldn’t really throw an Airedale through a window,” said F.  “They’re too big.”

It was an evening to discuss animal life and Nature.

“We see a different side of Holmes,” said J the First, “a lover of Nature.  We don’t get that sense from the stories Watson narrates.”

A suggested that not only does Watson not narrate, but Conan Doyle didn’t write this one.  Half the stories in the Case-Book must have been ghost written, he said.  Or maybe it’s Watson masquerading as Holmes; it actually sounds more like Watson than Holmes.

“It’s not my Holmes,” said F.  “Lover of Nature, admirer of Maud Bellamy, eager for the company of Harold Stackhurst.  He seems completely different from the Holmes we know from the earlier stories.  Do we change that much when we age?”

And he is so slow to realize that a jellyfish is to blame.  “Yes,” said B, “it just points out the limitations of H’s knowledge, as Watson himself established in the very first story.  He doesn’t know or care whether the earth goes around the Sun or the Moon, and he knows nothing about jellyfish.”

A (another A, let’s call her AS) showed video of a jellyfish from the Vancouver Aquarium.  Just by chance she had been there recently, before reading the story, so when she read the story, it seemed obvious that the jellyfish was the culprit, because seeing the one in the aquarium reminded her of the awful stings such creatures can administer.

A said Conan Doyle was wrong to suggest that a dog would be affected by a jellyfish sting.  N said that even after death the tentacles can still sting, so Holmes’s grand smashing of the creature won’t really solve anything.

“And why kill the jellyfish anyway?” said A.  “Revenge?”

“Holmes is simply moronic in this story,” said B.  “Why doesn’t he warn everyone away from the pool once he realizes it’s the jellyfish?”

“It’s silly that he can’t tell McPherson’s been in the water,” said AS.  “He must have been wet.”

But G found the inner conflict in the story interesting.  “Holmes is fighting his instincts to seek a human villain with a motive.  And he’s in Nature; that’s interesting.  And there’s a strong woman.”

“It’s a story about reconciliation and forgiveness,” said J the First.  “And it rounds out Holmes’s character.”

“It’s sad,” said A, “with Holmes apart from Watson.

“I didn’t miss Watson this time,” said F, “though I did in Blanched Soldier.”

“There are so many levels and parallels in the story,” said J the First.  “The reconciliation of Murdoch and Stackhouse.  So unexpected.  And then we learn that really Murdoch is kind and generous.”

“No, he’s not,” said J the Second.

But this is where we came in.

For my own take on “The Lion’s Mane,” you can read my Musing on it in Sherlockian Musings, now available at Amazon Canada, Amazon USA, and  Amazon UK.

To learn more about the Stormy Petrels, see their website.

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